Gates: Crimea Belongs to Putin Now

The former Defense secretary warns that the Russian forces likely aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Russian forces guard in the Ukrainian anti-aircraft unit in the western Crimean city of Yevpatoria on March 5.
National Journal
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Jordain Carney
March 10, 2014, 7:36 a.m.

Former De­fense Sec­ret­ary Robert Gates said Sunday that Rus­sia likely won’t give up its hold on Crimea.

“I think the Rus­si­ans see this as tak­ing back ter­rit­ory that be­longed to them,” the former top of­fi­cial for the Pentagon said dur­ing an ap­pear­ance on Fox News, adding: “I do not be­lieve that Crimea will slip out of Rus­sia’s hands.”

Asked by host Chris Wal­lace if he be­lieves Crimea is “gone,” Gates said that he did.

The United States is hop­ing to pres­sure Rus­sia in­to a dip­lo­mat­ic res­ol­u­tion by try­ing to isol­ate it from in­ter­na­tion­al or­gan­iz­a­tions, in­clud­ing the G-8, and with po­ten­tial sanc­tions, with Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry re­peatedly not­ing that Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin’s ac­tions aren’t how glob­al powers be­have in the 21st cen­tury.

But Gates noted that it isn’t wheth­er or not the in­cur­sion is “ag­gress­ive” or “il­le­git­im­ate,” but said “the ques­tion is can any­one do any­thing about it.”

The pro-Rus­sia gov­ern­ment in Crimea is hold­ing a ref­er­en­dum later this month on wheth­er the re­gion should join Rus­sia. It’s a move that Putin has backed and U.S. and Ukra­ni­an of­fi­cials have called il­le­git­im­ate, not­ing that any change to the coun­try’s bor­ders must take place in con­sulta­tion with the of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment in Kiev.

And in ad­di­tion to for­eign policy pres­sures, Pres­id­ent Obama is also fa­cing in­creas­ing cri­ti­cism back home. Con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans fault what they view as a weak for­eign policy by the pres­id­ent for Putin’s in­cur­sion in­to Ukraine. But Gates largely brushed aside such cri­ti­cism. 

“I think even if we had launched at­tacks in Syr­ia, even if we wer­en’t cut­ting our de­fense budget, I think Putin saw an op­por­tun­ity here,” he said.